Posts Tagged ‘humanitarian catastrophe’

Obama’s AfPak war engulfs Pakistan’s Swat Valley

May 23, 2009
By James Cogan |wsws.org,  May23,  2009

A humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), as a result of the Obama administration’s expansion of the occupation of Afghanistan into the so-called “AfPak war”.

Over the past seven years, ethnic Pashtun Islamist movements in NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have lent assistance to the resistance being waged against the American-led forces in Afghanistan by the Pashtun-based Taliban, including by disrupting US and NATO supply routes through Pakistan.

On Washington’s insistence, the Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered the military to embark on operations to crush the militants. In late April, Pakistani forces deployed into the Lower Dir and Buner districts of NWFP to drive out a small number who had moved into the area from their strongholds to the north, in the Swat Valley district.

Since May 8, the operation, which now involves up to 18,000 Pakistani troops, backed by air support and heavy artillery, has extended deep inside the Swat Valley. Over the past two weeks they have engaged in a series of battles against the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Islamist fighters.

There is virtually no independent reporting from the conflict zone. Most information coming out of Swat is sourced directly from the military, making its accuracy questionable.

What is clear, however, is that the assault into Buner, Lower Dir and the Swat Valley has rapidly degenerated into the savage collective punishment of entire Pashtun communities. Hundreds of thousands of terrified civilians have taken to the roads to get out of the conflict zone. By the beginning of this week, the United Nations had registered 1.45 million internally displaced persons.

The exodus from just these three districts is becoming the greatest displacement of civilians on the Indian subcontinent since the 1947 partition of the British Raj into India and Pakistan. Tens of thousands of people have found themselves in squalid refugee camps, without adequate food, water and sanitation. Peasant farmers have had to flee right at the time when they need to harvest their crops, setting the stage for severe food shortages and malnutrition later in the year.

A factor in the mass evacuation is the sheer brutality with which the Pakistani military waged an offensive in the nearby tribal agencies of Bajaur and Mohmand last year. Scores of towns and villages, including the major town of Loe Sam, were indiscriminately reduced to rubble in order to dislodge Taliban fighters. The government claims that over 1,500 militants were killed, while relief agencies estimate that over 500,000 people were forced from their homes. There is no estimate on the number of civilian deaths.

The depopulation of the Swat Valley is a conscious policy aimed at creating the best conditions for the military to slaughter the anti-government guerrillas there as well.

Reports indicate that a three-pronged offensive is underway to trap as many militants as possible in the central Swat city of Mingora. Army columns have pushed through Buner and Lower Dir and entered Swat from the south. Another column is moving through Swat from the north, while special forces units were dropped deep in the mountains to force Islamists out of the western Peochar Valley. In one bloody two-week battle for control of a mountain ridge known as Biny Baba Ziarat, the military claims to have slaughtered 150 Taliban, including boys no older than 14.

While the details are sketchy, the military has also waged significant battles to take control of a number of Swat towns, as well as the strategic bridges and roads linking Mingora with the outside world. It is already claiming that it has killed over 1,100 militants, at the cost of some 60 soldiers. Over recent days, troops have been fighting street-to-street battles in the town of Kanju, on the outskirts of Mingora proper.

An Al Jazeerah video shot on May 16 near Mingora showed helicopter gunships attacking highways and other targets; children playing among partially demolished homes; and the potholes caused by the controlled explosion of mines placed by militants on the roads.

The description of the situation in Mingora is reminiscent of Fallujah in November 2004, prior to the murderous US assault that destroyed the Iraqi city and left thousands dead.

Mingora previously had a population of some 250,000. Human Rights Watch (HRW) has been told that as few as 10,000 people remain. The Pakistani government has provided a similar estimate, but declared those remaining are all “Taliban sympathisers,” in order to justify a massacre in advance.

HRW reported that Mingora has not had electricity since the offensive began, and hospitals and health facilities are not operating. Now, the army is cutting off food supplies. The city is believed to be defended by several thousand fighters, who have few heavy weapons and are being repeatedly pounded by air strikes and artillery bombardments.

Spelling out the intentions of the military, Major General Sajad Ghani told the Associated Press: “The noose is tightening around them. Their routes of escape have been cut off. It’s just a question of time before they are eliminated.”

The militants in Swat are followers of the Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM), or the Movement for the Enforcement of Islamic Law. While TNSM has ideological affinities with both the Afghan Taliban and the Pakistani Taliban led by Baitullah Mehsud, it is a local organisation. It gained support in the district as a backlash against both Islamabad’s support for the US invasion of Afghanistan and anger over the endemic poverty that faces the majority of people in what was once one of the country’s premier tourist locations and playgrounds for Pakistan’s rich.

TNSM’s leaders, cleric Sufi Mohammad and his son-in-law Maulana Fazlullah, used a network of FM radio stations to combine Islamist preaching with populist calls for wealth redistribution and denunciations of the Pakistani government’s neglect of the poor. After several years of fighting, the Pakistani government agreed to a ceasefire with TNSM in February which accepted that its version of Islamic law could be imposed in the Swat Valley.

Over the following weeks, the TNSM sought to expand its influence to the neighbouring district of Buner, which is located only 100 kilometres to the north of Islamabad. This led to exaggerated claims by the Obama administration and in Western newspapers that the Pakistani government had allowed the “Taliban” to grow so strong that they were threatening to take over the country’s capital. The purpose of the accusation was to pressure Zardari and Gilani into unleashing the military to crush the spread of Islamist influence.

The government has made clear that the offensive to destroy TNSM is only the first stage of a campaign of military violence on behalf of the Obama administration. The Pakistani ruling elite fears being denied the international financial assistance they need to stave off economic collapse. At present, the Pakistani state is being kept afloat by loans from the International Monetary Fund and aid from the US and Japan.

Zardari told the British Sunday Times on May 17: “We’re going to go into Waziristan, all these regions, with army operations. Swat is just the start. It’s a larger war to fight.” He went on to appeal for $1 billion in emergency assistance aid. Thus far, the US and other powers have agreed to provide just $224 million.

The Pakistani Taliban strongholds in North and South Waziristan are of the greatest strategic concern to US occupation forces fighting in Afghanistan. Afghan fighters are known to use these tribal agencies, which are virtually outside the control of the Pakistani government, as safe havens and supply points.

The US military has launched repeated missile attacks on targets inside Waziristan using unmanned Predator drones. Illegal under international law, the strikes have resulted in the deaths of over 700 civilians but have only killed a handful of alleged Taliban leaders and had little impact on the cross-border movements of anti-occupation fighters.

A ground assault into Waziristan will see the Pakistani military in battle against the large Pashtun tribal forces loyal to Baitullah Mehsud and the Afghan Haqqani network. Periodic fighting since the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan has resulted in the deaths of over 1,000 troops and unknown numbers of militants.

The Pakistani Taliban has responded to the threatened offensive with an ultimatum to the government that it has until May 25 to withdraw its troops from South Waziristan, end the Predator attacks and allow traffic in and out unchecked. Reports suggest Islamist fighters are strengthening defensive positions in anticipation of a military attack.

Fear of an offensive has triggered the beginnings of another mass civilian exodus. Several thousand Pashtun tribal families have arrived over recent days to take refuge in NWFP towns such as Tank, to the south of Waziristan. Officials cited by the Dawn newspaper on May 20 reported that 5,000 tents have been sent to the area in preparation for the influx of over 200,000 civilians.

Hillary Clinton reprises “peace process” fraud

March 3, 2009
Bill Van Auken | WSWS, March 3, 2009
In her  first trip to the Middle East as President Barack Obama’s secretary of state, Hillary Clinton insisted that the new US administration is determined to press for a “two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Decades of US and Israeli policies, however, have made it abundantly clear that the two-state solution will neither resolve the democratic and social aspirations of the Palestinian people nor secure an end to the ceaseless militarism of the Israeli state, which in the end poses a mortal threat to Jewish working people in Israel itself.

Clinton made her pitch for the revival of the decades-old and deeply discredited “peace process” in the context of an international donors’ conference called in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to raise money for the rebuilding of the devastated Gaza Strip.

At the end of the 23-day Israeli onslaught against Gaza, over 1,300 Palestinians had been killed, many thousands more wounded and half a million driven from their homes. It remains a humanitarian catastrophe, with tens of thousands still homeless, sleeping in tents in the cold, inadequate food supplies and the threat of disease posed by the destruction of water and sewage infrastructure. Meanwhile, Israel continues to exercise a tight blockade at Gaza crossings, preventing access to essential supplies.

In her public statements, Clinton managed, incredibly, to make no mention of this destruction wrought by the Israeli military, referring only once to an abstract “crisis in Gaza.” At the same time, however, she repeatedly condemned rocket attacks from Gaza, demanding that they stop. Needless to say, the American secretary of state made no such demand upon Israel to halt its continuing military actions against Gaza.

On the eve of Clinton’s Middle East trip, which is taking her to Jerusalem and Ramallah as well, Washington announced that it is boycotting a United Nations-sponsored conference against racism. It refused to participate because a draft document for the conference described Israel’s policy towards Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank as a “violation of international human rights, a crime against humanity and a contemporary form of apartheid.”

Washington’s problem is that, while posturing as the champion of peace, it has been-and under Obama remains-an indispensible partner in these crimes. The weapons used to slaughter men, women and children in Gaza were made in the USA.

The amount of money that the US pledged at Sharm el-Sheikh for reconstruction in Gaza-$300 million-is a pittance compared to the money lavished on Israel for the arms used to carry out the destruction in the first place. Since 2002 Washington has given the Israeli state $21 billion in military aid, while signing a 10-year agreement last year to provide it $30 billion.

The Obama administration will continue this aid. As Clinton’s performance in Egypt made clear, the Washington-orchestrated “peace process” will consist, as in the past, of US negotiators pressuring the Palestinians to bow to Israel’s demands.

As Clinton put it in Sharm el-Sheikh, this process demands that the Palestinians “break the cycle of rejection and resistance”; in other words, that they acquiesce and submit.

This modus operandi of US Middle East diplomacy has persisted over the course of more than a decade and a half under Democratic and Republican administrations alike, from Yassir Arafat’s appearance in the White House Rose Garden with Ms. Clinton’s husband and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993, to subsequent conferences at Wye River in 1998, Camp David in 2000 and Annapolis in 2007.

It has produced a situation in which the so-called “two-state solution” is today manifestly unviable.

The Palestinian state advocated by the Clinton administration and subsequently by that of George W. Bush, has taken the form of a grotesque farce in the form of the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, which has become synonymous with corruption and impotence. Its mandate is restricted to scattered Palestinian towns in the West Bank, cut off from each other by Israeli settlements and militarized zones. It is cut off entirely from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-blockaded territory governed by the Islamist Hamas movement.

US policy towards the Palestinians has essentially been an attempt to build up Abbas’s regime and its security forces as a surrogate force for American and Israeli interests in the region and to use it to suppress Hamas. This was reiterated at Monday’s donors’ conference in which Clinton and other US officials insisted on iron-clad guarantees that not a cent of US funding would go to the Hamas administration in Gaza, a stipulation that will obviously impede reconstruction.

In a report prepared in conjunction with Clinton’s trip, the Israeli Peace Now movement revealed that the Israeli government has drawn up plans to build at least 70,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank, potentially doubling the settler population in the occupied territory. This population is already four times what it was a decade ago, and its continuous expansion-together with accompanying Israeli military forces and security road networks-has taken up fully 40 percent of the land on the West Bank.

Any Palestinian state would be physically and economically completely dependent on Israel, and through it the United States. The Palestinian Authority, built up by the United States, would be tasked with policing the the Palestinian population and suppressing popular opposition.

The policy being promoted by Clinton is in fundamental continuity with that pursued by the Bush administration for the last eight years. Its objective is not “peace” in the Middle East, but rather the promotion of American hegemony over the region and its vast oil reserves.

A genuine settlement of the 60-year-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be found neither under the auspices of US imperialism nor through the division of the territory into religious and ethnic-based statelets. It requires the unification of Arab and Jewish working people on a secular, socialist and internationalist perspective in a common struggle against Zionism, imperialism and the ruling elites of the Arab countries for a socialist federation of the Middle East.

Sri Lanka’s war of terror

February 20, 2009

Nagesh Rao explains the historical background to the Sri Lankan government’s latest war crimes against the Tamil minority.

A group of made refugees in Sri Lanka's civil warA group of made refugees in Sri Lanka’s civil war

THE SRI LANKAN military is intensifying its war on the country’s Tamil minority–but the international media is focused far more on the violence of the Tamil resistance.

Just as the Israelis did during their most recent invasion of Gaza, Sri Lankan authorities have prevented journalists from entering war zones. Consequently, the media has largely followed official Sri Lankan pronouncements and viewed this decades-old conflict through the relatively new lens of the “war on terror.”

Meanwhile, human rights organizations, various NGOs, and Tamil organizations worldwide have produced evidence of a brutal military campaign by the Sri Lankan state directed against the Tamil population at large.

A January 28 Amnesty International press release about the unfolding humanitarian catastrophe in Sri Lanka stated:

“Recent fighting has placed more than a quarter of a million civilians at great risk. People displaced by the conflict are experiencing acute shortages of humanitarian aid, especially food, shelter and medical care. There has been no food convoy in the area since 16 January,” said Yolanda Foster, Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka researcher.

The Government of Sri Lanka is carrying out military operations in areas with a civilian population. The aerial and artillery bombardment has reportedly led to civilian deaths, injuries, the destruction of property and mass displacement on this island nation off India’s southeastern coast.

Sri Lankan government forces have pushed the Tamil Tigers out of all major urban areas they had held for nearly a decade and into a small pocket of land. More than 300,000 civilians who have fled the oncoming government troops are also trapped in this small area. They have been displaced multiple times and are increasingly vulnerable as fighting moves closer.

Hundreds of people have been killed or injured and such medical care as has been available is threatened due to danger to the few health workers and damage to hospitals.

The government had declared “safe zones” to allow civilians to seek shelter, but information made available to Amnesty International indicates that several civilians in the so-called safe zone have been killed or sustained injuries as a result of artillery bombardment.

A doctor working in a hospital in a “safe zone” says that about 1,000 shells fell around the hospital.

Yet even though Amnesty International demonstrated that the overwhelming responsibility for the violence lay with government authorities, it titled its press release, “Government and Tamil Tigers violating laws of war.” According to Amnesty, “in at least one instance,” the rebel Tamil Tigers blocked the movement of a Red Cross convoy of injured and at-risk people out of the war zone. The statement ends by quoting Yolanda Foster again:

The immediate priority is medical attention for the seriously wounded. The Tamil Tigers must let injured civilians go. Preventing civilians from accessing medical care constitutes a war crime.

The Amnesty International statement thus offers a lengthy list of crimes committed by the Sri Lankan military, only to end by suggesting that the obstacle to meeting the most “immediate priority” is the “war crime” being committed by the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group. Nowhere in the statement are the words “war crime” associated with the government’s actions, which are instead referred to as “a military campaign.”

In response, many Tamil activists and organizations have urged the international community to recognize the Sri Lankan government’s latest military assault on the Tamils as constituting, at a minimum, “acts of genocide” as defined by the Geneva Convention.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

ON THE streets of the capital Colombo, roving gangs of political thugs have waged a campaign of terror designed to intimidate any and all opposition to the Sri Lankan state. On January 28, human rights lawyer and activist Amitha Ariyaratne received death threats from police officers at a police station just north of Colombo. Three days later, his office was burned down by an unknown arsonist.

This came on the heels of the sensational assassination on January 8 of a leading journalist and critic of the government and editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper. Lasantha Wickramatunga was assassinated by unidentified assailants during his morning commute in rush-hour traffic. His car window was smashed in, and he was shot in the head, the chest and the stomach. He died on the way to the hospital.

Wickramatunga’s last article, “And then they came for me,” was a moving and passionate letter to his readers predicting his own death at the hands of his government. Not surprisingly, Reporters Without Borders ranks Sri Lanka 165th (out of 173 countries) in its index of press freedom around the world.

The Sri Lankan government has turned a deaf ear to international human rights organizations and Tamil NGOs who have complained about innumerable human rights violations and the ongoing humanitarian disaster in the northeast. Using “war on terror” rhetoric, Sri Lankan state propaganda has instead deflected international media attention towards war crimes allegedly committed by the LTTE.

However, the Sri Lankan government has absolved itself of its own obligation to respect human rights. In 2006 the Supreme Court declared that “[T]he Human Rights Committee at Geneva…is not reposed with judicial power under our constitution,” (see the text of the ruling here) providing a legal fig-leaf for the government’s draconian crackdown on the Tamils. The Asian Human Rights Commission has declared, “The Supreme Court of Sri Lanka is a part of the human rights violation mechanism.”

About 74 percent of the Sri Lankan population consists of Sinhala-speaking Buddhists, while the rest are Tamil-speaking Hindus and Muslims. Since the 1980s, a brutal civil war between the government forces and the Tamil Tigers has claimed over 70,000 lives, with hundreds of thousands more injured and displaced, the majority of them Tamils.

Most media reports date the origins of the conflict between the Tamils and the Sinhalese to the founding of the LTTE in the 1980s, but the Tamils have faced discrimination and repression at the hands of Colombo’s Sinhala-dominated government ever since Sri Lanka achieved its independence from Britain in 1948.

One of the first acts of the newly independent state in 1949 was to disenfranchise, at the stroke of a pen, some 1 million Tamils who had arrived in Sri Lanka in the twentieth century. They were declared non-citizens and told to return to India. Many of these “Indian Tamils” had been brought in by the British from India to not only labor in the tea plantations but to serve in the colonial administrative bureaucracy. British divide-and-rule policies resulted in special privileges for middle-class Tamils who had been educated in English in India. This bred resentment among sections of the Sinhala majority, and right-wing Sinhalese chauvinism began to gain ground during the waning years of British rule.

By disenfranchising the “Indian Tamils,” the newly-independent Sri Lankan state had resorted to a despicably ethnic-chauvinist policy, and encouraged the growth of the far right. In 1956, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) rode this wave of Sinhalese-Buddhist chauvinism to come to power and unleashed the first anti-Tamil pogrom, leaving some 100 Tamils dead and thousands displaced from their homes. The pogroms were led, and egged on, by militant and fascistic Buddhist monks.

Another wave of anti-Tamil hysteria in the 1960s resulted in the declaration of Sinhala as the only official language of the state. More pogroms followed in the early 1970s, with the monks and their allies periodically terrorizing and intimidating the Tamil population, while their political patrons reaped the rewards of a ready-made majority at the polls. In 1981, in an act that often referred to as “cultural genocide,” rioting policemen burned down the Jaffna Library, which housed much of the cultural memory of the Tamil population.

Continued >>

Israel’s partner in war crimes

January 12, 2009

American politicians aren’t reflecting the will of the American people, who aren’t nearly as pro-Israel as their political leaders.

WITH ISRAEL’S invasion into Gaza killing and injuring thousands, and turning the area into a humanitarian catastrophe, a tide of criticism and denunciation has risen against it around the world.

Columnist: Lance Selfa

Lance Selfa Lance Selfa is the author of The Democrats: A Critical History, a socialist analysis of the Democratic Party, and editor of The Struggle for Palestine, a collection of essays by leading solidarity activists. He is on the editorial board of the International Socialist Review.

But there are a few places where Israel won’t hear a peep of criticism–on the contrary, it gets words of encouragement and statements of solidarity. Among them are the halls of the U.S. Congress, the Oval Office of the White House, and the offices of the U.S. president-elect.

Compared even to the level of criticism of the government in Israel itself, the one-sidedness of the pro-Israel cheerleading among members of the U.S. political establishment is astounding. Even expressions of concern for the humanitarian crisis facing Gaza are remarkably few among U.S. politicians.

As the respected Middle East expert Juan Cole put it in his Informed Comment blog:

If the U.S. legislators voted on the Gaza operation, they would support Israel except for the same 10 who objected to the war on Lebanon (the 10 are mostly from congressional districts with a lot of Arab-Americans). Israel will suffer no practical sanctions from any government.

President-elect Obama has remained largely silent on Gaza, claiming that because “American has only one president at a time,” he cannot issue statements that might contradict the current lame duck government’s policies.

U.S.-Israel flag pin

But Obama is holding press conferences and giving YouTube addresses that are nothing if not critiques of the current administration’s policies on every other issue. And he was quick to rush out a denunciation of the terror attacks in Mumbai last month.

Behind this seeming reticence to comment on Gaza, we have good evidence that Israel has nothing to fear from an Obama administration.

Last January, Obama issued a letter to UN Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, urging him to oppose any resolution criticizing Israel’s siege of Gaza. “We have to understand why Israel is forced to do this,” the letter argued. “Israel has the right to respond while seeking to minimize any impact on civilians.”

During his campaign tour of the Middle East and Europe this summer, he visited Sderot, Israel, to express his support for Israelis targeted by rockets from Gaza. His comment at the time: “If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I’m going to do everything in my power to stop that. I would expect Israelis to do the same thing.”

In other words, we should have little doubt about what Obama would say if he were regularly issuing statements on Gaza. Although the press forced him to issue a bland statement of concern for civilian casualties in both Gaza and Israel on January 6, he has preferred to remain mum.

Obama’s silence is similar to the Bush administration’s “disengagement” (to use the favored word of foreign policy wonks) from the Israel-Palestine conflict–an assurance that Israel can do whatever it wants without any interference from Washington.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

WHAT EXPLAINS the bipartisan lockstep march behind the Israel Defense Forces?

It certainly isn’t because American politicians are reflecting the will of the American people, who are not nearly as pro-Israel as their political leaders are. Writing for Salon.com, Glenn Greenwald pointed to evidence from a Rasmussen Reports poll that:

strongly bolsters the severe disconnect I documented the other day between (a) American public opinion on U.S. policy towards Israel and (b) the consensus views expressed by America’s political leadership.

Not only does Rasmussen find that Americans generally “are closely divided over whether the Jewish state should be taking military action against militants in the Gaza Strip” (44-41 percent, with 15 percent undecided), but Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose the Israeli offensive–by a 24-point margin (31-55 percent). By stark contrast, Republicans, as one would expect (in light of their history of supporting virtually any proposed attack on Arabs and Muslims), overwhelmingly support the Israeli bombing campaign (62-27 percent).

The most popular explanation usually given for the American elite’s pro-Israel bias is that it fears the wrath of the “Israel lobby.”

There is a powerful network of Zionist organizations–led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)–that donates money to pro-Israel candidates and lobbies the U.S. government on behalf of Israel. There’s nothing anti-Semitic about pointing this out. These groups are quite open about their activities, and they aren’t shy about touting their own influence.

But are these organizations and their lobbying efforts the reason why the U.S. supports Israel?

From a socialist point of view, the answer is no. Israel annually receives more than $3 billion in U.S. aid. Egypt runs second at around $2 billion. Yet no one would seriously claim that the aid Egypt receives is the result of an “Egyptian lobby.”

It’s no coincidence that Israel and Egypt are the two top recipients of U.S. aid. Both are important U.S. allies in the region where the lion’s share of the world’s oil is located.

Since the end of the Second World War, the U.S. has tied its “national security” to its access to and control of the flow of oil. That’s why the U.S. has given military and economic aid to prop up “friendly” states in the region–not only Israel, but Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf monarchies, too.

The U.S. puts Israel at the top of the list because its government and population form the only uniformly pro-U.S. state in the region. In countries like Egypt, pro-Western governments rule over restive populations that hate the U.S. government’s support for Israel and for their own oppressive regimes. Even the quisling government of U.S.-occupied Iraq isn’t completely reliable.

In the 1990s, the Bush I and Clinton governments pursued various “peace” initiatives with Israel and the Palestinians–most of them aimed at getting Palestinians to accept their own “bantustans” (the term for the fake Black homelands in South Africa under apartheid) as a means to the end of stability for the U.S. and Israel in the region. Those efforts ran their course, and the Bush II regime, operating under the rubric of its “war on terror,” simply let the Israeli government run amok.

These shifts in U.S. policy had nothing to do with the strength of the Israel lobby. They stemmed from changes inside the U.S. government’s foreign policy establishment. The U.S. government decides how much leeway Israel has, and this leeway defines how successful the “Israel lobby” will be.

As long as Israel remains central to U.S. imperialism in the Middle East, Israel will continue to receive U.S. backing and aid. That’s why Israel’s ace in the hole in Washington isn’t AIPAC, but the Pentagon, the CIA and the military-industrial complex. And as long as the national security establishment remains committed to Israel, elected politicians will provide the political cover that justifies the billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars that Israel receives.

Refugee crisis brews in Pakistan

August 17, 2008

Al Jazeera, August 17, 2008

Pakistani refugees, displaced by fighting in the tribal north, receive aid provided by the Afghan Red Crescent Society in Ali Sher district of Khost province, Afghanistan [AP]

News of clashes in Pakistan’s tribal areas and the fate of thousands of refugees fleeing the fighting have been overshadowed by the country’s focus on Islamabad’s growing power struggle.The concerted campaign by the coalition government to remove Pervez Musharraf, the Pakistani president, from power has shifted focus from a developing humanitarian crisis in the north.

According to government estimates, some 219,000 have been displaced as the military and tribal fighters battle for territorial control following a string of failed peace agreements in the once-scenic Swat Valley and Bajaur Agency, a district of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).

Rehman Malik, the advisor to the prime minister on interior affairs, told the media that 462 “militants” and 22 security personnel have lost their lives in the ongoing military operations.

However, these figures do not quite reveal the catastrophic situation that is rapidly gnawing at the integrity of this South Asian nation.

Ostensibly, the Taliban is fighting to enforce Sharia (Islamic law) in the region but have shown no remorse in using the local population as a collective human shield against Pakistani military operations.

Mass exodus

The residents have been advised by the security forces to leave their homes and seek sanctuary.

“It is not easy to leave your home. We expected the army to supervise the evacuation, which is the least they could have done to provide some sort of security but it has not happened,” Sher Afzal, a resident who escaped the fighting in Bajaur Agency, said.

Further compounding the mass exodus is the steady stream of refugees fleeing from the adjoining Mohmand Agency. They have sought shelter in Peshawar, the capital of the Frontier province, and in nearby Dir and Malakand.

The Frontier government has asked for immediate financial assistance of Rs1.5 billion ($19.7 million) to cope with such massive displacement.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people waiting for help and we don’t have the wherewithal to cope with the situation,” an official of the provincial government said.

This has created a bind for the security forces who were caught between using force to flush out “militants” or doing nothing and thereby saving the innocent population caught in the crossfire.

They chose the first option even at the risk of collateral damage; this resulted in a high number of civilian casualties.

But not taking on the Taliban, experts have agreed, was not a viable option given the proclivity of their fighters to assimilate into local populations and use the breathing space to re-launch attacks.

“We have two options: either to keep mum and hand over the country to [the] Taliban or take action,” the interior advisor said.

Tearing the script

At least six Pakistani troops were killed and 15 others injured in clashes with the Taliban [AFP]

In Swat, the situation is as tense as ever. The provincial government has come under pressure for trying to return to a now defunct peace agreement with the tribal fighters.”The peace agreement signed in May is intact and the government is ready to hold negotiations to end unrest,” Bashir Bilour, the senior minister and head of the government’s peace committee, said.

But he also conceded the fighters had breached the pact.

The provincial government re-launched the military operation on July 29 after the Taliban-allied fighters threatened, but failed, to force the government to resign. They violated the peace accord by attacking security forces and torching girl schools.

More aid needed

But some tribesmen are now taking security affairs into their own hands, taking the fight to the Taliban-allied fighters and earning support from Islamabad.

The federal government announced an award of Rs500,000 (US$6,560) and a Kalashnikov rifle each for a few tribesman who had shot dead six fighters in Buner three days ago.

But Pakistanis are urging the government to apply the same anti-Taliban intiatives to improve facilities for the refugees.

The provincial government has set up eight camps for the displaced, which the central government later upped statistically, by five more.

However, even these 13 camps are woefully short of providing shelter to the homeless.

A provincial government official, who did not want to be named, told Al Jazeera: “We are facing this situation because of the military action in the tribal region. It is therefore, the responsibility of the federal government to provide financial assistance.”

Kamran Rehmat is a news editor with Dawn News, a Pakistani TV channel.


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